Why not broadcast school board workshops for the public's sake?

Yes, Hillsborough County school officials know how to do technology. So why not use it to include the public in their workshops? [OCTAVIO JONES | Times (2018)]
Yes, Hillsborough County school officials know how to do technology. So why not use it to include the public in their workshops? [OCTAVIO JONES | Times (2018)]
Published June 4, 2019

A recent column in the Tampa Bay Times was what you would call an eye-opener — written by a teacher at a Hillsborough County middle school explaining why she just couldn't do it anymore.

In the column — still sending out ripples about the state of public education — Bianca Goolsby painted a picture of a school out of control. She cited a lack of support from higher-ups and elected officials more interested in arming teachers than teaching. She wrote of teachers she said "don't really want to teach black or brown kids." And she described students fighting, doing drugs on campus and having sex in bathrooms, a sense of lawlessness and chaos that changed her.

Now even without that sobering testimonial, you would expect plenty of parents to be interested when the Hillsborough County School Board takes up the subject of student discipline at a public workshop later this month.

In fact, those morning workshops often focus on critical educational subjects — security, the role of charter schools or mental health, for instance.

What's that you say?

You work?

You have day-to-day responsibilities that make it difficult for you to schlep downtown on a weekday morning?

Too bad.

Because school officials won't televise or webcast this for you, the way local governments routinely broadcast such events so the people who elect them can see that they're up to while still living their busy lives.

So citizens can be connected and informed.

So there's a sense of openness and transparency in government.

The school board televised these workshops in the past. And it's not a technology issue: The board continues to broadcast its regular meetings.

Confounding, I know.

In fact, Marlene Sokol, a Times education reporter, has taken to holding up her phone in these workshops to give readers access to what's going on through the newspaper's Gradebook Facebook page. (She may have gotten the first 20 minutes of it sideways this week, but hey, at least there was a recording for anyone interested.)

Do elected school board members not see the ridiculousness in this? Do they not understand that any hurdle that keeps citizens from taking part is one too many? That it looks like they'd rather just get comfy and not be bothered by that pesky public eye?

When Sokol asked superintendent Jeff Eakins last month why the workshops are neither webcast nor broadcast through the cable provider, he said it had to do with moving the workshops from the auditorium with its camera equipment to a second-floor conference room.

You know, less formal, more workshoppy.

"That's not about not being transparent," Eakins said. "We've posted materials. People can come and they can visit that. They can attend."

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Okay, but one easy way for even more people to have access is gone.

Earlier this year, the school board stopped televising the public comment portion of its regular meetings — when, yes, they are sometimes criticized by constituents — by scheduling public comment before the meetings start. If you are the suspicious type, you might start to see a pattern when it comes to public participation, or lack thereof.

The bottom line: The serious issues Goolsby raised — along with plenty of other subjects critical to public education — should be discussed in an open and accessible forum.

And school officials should feel obligated to make sure citizens have every possible chance to hear it.

Contact Sue Carlton at